*eeeeeek*. It’s Tuesday. I have already done my duty and written an *ooof* over there on me+richard, and as I am idly pottering around, popping over to RAnet for a quick catch-up on all the news during my lunch break, I get hit with a brand new image.
April is the cruellest month. It’s been a while since I did a proper emergency *ooof*, so why not do one today, while I am feeling excited and inspired. For a change (and in order not to clog up my host’s blog), I’ll push it out on my own blog.
What a brilliant image. Whoever is doing the instagram for Urban and the shed crew – well done to you, this image is very arty, very interesting – very much worth looking at. Where is the *ooof* factor in the image, you ask? Piles of rubble and a manky woollen coat? Well, for me the *ooof* is in the profile of the subject and the hair. And that makes this a worth-while picture to *ooof*. What do we see?
A lonely man is walking through a wasteland. Piles of building rubble, interspersed with bits of rubbish, flow from the top right of the square image down to the bottom left. Under the dark night sky we can make out a couple of high rise buildings in the background. A white van is also emerging behind the rubble. In the foreground a lonely man is walking through the frame. He is dressed in a salt-and-pepper woollen coat, has his hands in his pockets and is walking from the left to the right. He has been captured as he is just entering the right-most third of the image (that is if you were to draw imaginary rule of thirds lines onto the picture). The scene is illuminated from the left, therefore his face is in shadow. We can just about see the shadowy stubble on his face and barely make out his eye. However, the illumination from the left lights up his neck-length hair and almost casts a golden glow over it.
Whether the photographer staged this scene and asked RA to walk through his field of vision for effect, or whether this is the luck of the “decisive moment” – I am pretty sure that this is not a film still. There are a number of hints to support that. Well, the fact that this is an image that has obviously been shot with the intention of putting it on instagram is the obvious hint. It means that the image was shot with a camera phone – not really the hardware of choice when shooting film stills ;-). The accompanying text on instagram (“R___ A___, who plays Chop on set last week”) omits mentioning that this is a specific scene, again allowing the assumption that this was not shot from the POV that the camera will be taking in the film. The main hint, however, is that I can spot a couple of tripods – with black lights attached – in the background.
Yeah, call me obsessed – I can spot those tools of my trade anywhere, dark or light. We are obviously looking at the set from a perspective that is not going to be used in the film.
So is Mr A rehearsing an amble through the wasteland for a camera that may be placed somewhere behind him, or is he walking off the set to take a break? With his penchant for staying in character during filming (“I never like to go out of character when filming starts I fear that if I do, I might not be able to pick it up again”, as the Independent quotes A___ in yesterday’s profile ), I suspect Armitage wouldn’t have any silly posing, however artfully, for purposes of Social Media advertising. The photographer, however, spotted a visually interesting scene unfolding in front of his or her eyes – a lonely man wandering among picturesque rubble. However undeliberate this image is – it comes together nicely. The composition (nearly) divides the background into two halves – the dark, comprised of sky and unlit buildings, and the rubble. This contrast and symmetry is pleasing to the eye. By deliberately resisting to place the subject in the centre of the image, the photographer disturbs the symmetry and draws more attention to the subject that is in the right-most third of the image. By doing so he/she inadvertantly (I suppose) emphasises the dynamicism of the image. The imbalance of the composition (two thirds of negative space vs. one third of subject-driven space) creates tension and visual excitement. I am reminded of the grand master of the “decisive moment”, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the image that has been used to death for illustrating what “decisive moment” actually means. In Cartier-Bresson’s image, a man is also pictured, moving from left to right, pictured in the third third. And yeah, it’s also taken in a less than beautiful setting, so maybe that is why I am reminded of it.
The grooves of the haphazardly arranged rubble also provide some sight lines that happen to lead a) to the subject’s head and b) the subject’s
bum hands. But it is the lighting that has me enthralled. While the illumination from the left lights up the hair of the subject, highlighting the slightly wavy, but not entirely unkempt style, it leaves the face of the subject in shadow. But not quite. Some lightspill reaches the face from the other side, giving us the merest hint of a view. We can make out the right eye, seemingly looking down, and the stubble on cheek and chin. Best of all, the lightspill also creates the hint of a rim along the A___ profile, making his forehead, nose and chin stand out from the rubble in the background. It is also a very opportune coincidence that a larger, lighter piece of rubble happens to be *just* in the background where A___’s head appears in the frame, making it easier to discern the profile from the background.
As is customary on instagram, images are cropped and displayed in square format. In the case of the popular photo app that may have been a decision governed by necessity – the display of the app on a smartphone not only shows the image itself but also the buttons for editing and filtering tools. Therefore the image format had to be cut down. However, the square format is much loved in art photography. If you see a photographer cropping her images into square format, you can automatically assume that she has intentions/pretensions of being perceived as creating “art”… And for a number of good reasons. The square, of course, is the most perfect of all geometric shapes: equally long sides allow for perfect symmetry. For framing and composition, a square format is the perfect experimentation ground. It allows for very simple composition that works particularly well when there is very little to see in the frame. You can very easily frame the image in such a way that emphasis is placed on a particular subject or object. The composing of the image is easier because the “half lines” are easier to perceive than in a rectangular frame. There is a natural sense of balance in a square frame, which is so obvious to the eye that you can hardly fail with it. And both the symmetrical as well as the asymmetrical approach work very well within a square frame (while the rectangular 35mm format is much more pleasing when used in conjunction with the rule of thirds). Shapes stand out in stark contrast in square formats: With a square frame, round objects appear even more contrast-y while “forced” into the confines of the “square box”.
As I like to repeat mantra-like in most of my *ooof*s, a good image is one that “speaks to you”, a picture that inspires, challenges, makes you think. This one does, inspired coincidence or not. Even if it wasn’t Armitage within the frame, my mind would start asking questions: Where is the man? Why is he walking among the rubble? Where is he going? Where is he coming from? Who is he? What is he? What is he thinking? Is his posture characterised of exhaustion, or of resignation, or of boredom? What do *you* hear?
“Ok, we need to do that again, Richard.” He sighed. Another take. Another try at getting it right. He was supposed to walk across an inner city waste land of rubble and rubbish. How difficult could that be, especially under cover of the night, where he was in half-shadow, just walking. The rehearsal had been perfect. He had walked across the rubble hill, carefully setting his feet on the bricks, balancing on the broken bits of concrete, propelling himself forward in a gracious dance until he was out of frame. With the sound of the clapperboard, he seemed to have lost his mojo. The first take had apparently taken too long. “A bit faster R___”, the director had demanded, “you’re not on Seventh Avenue here.” On the second take he had made it two thirds through the frame when a passing truck had fucked up the sound. “Cut! We have to shoot that again, R____.”
10.30 pm. It was cold. An April night. April is the cruellest month. For filming outdoor scenes. He had resumed his position and waited for the third attempt. A simple walk across the rubble. How hard can it be? He had acted with tennis balls, survived white water barrelling and smashed his face with fake weapons. But half way across the rubble he had tripped over a half-obscured piece of wire and nearly landed on all fours. Fuck! “Sorry, boss”, he had tried to make light of it, but he was tired and exhausted after a long day of rehearsing and filming, preceded by a weekend of promo work. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” or what? This was getting ridiculous. Back to square one.
“And action!” He made his way across the rubble, not too fast, not too slow, keeping an eye out for sneaky pieces of wire when the breeze picked up and started flapping his open coat in the wind and blowing his damned 90s bob into his face. “Cut!!!! Hair please – I need to be able to see Chop!” The stylist sprayed a ton-load of hair spray onto his head in an attempt at fixing the strands of hair on his skull. His hair felt like a helmet at this stage. He coughed. Damn, he was thirsty. If there were water we should stop and drink. Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think. Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand. If there were only water amongst the rock… Impatiently swatting away the hands of the stylist, he made his way back to the starting position. “Action!” He walked, singularly concentrated on the task of setting one foot in front of the other. Yes, he could do it. His head bowed down, his eyes carefully scanned the ground. Another step taken. He ploughed on, his hands in his pocket. So thirsty, Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop. Chop Chop Chop. But there is no water. He walked on. He could do it. He walked. Yes.
By the time the director cried “Cut!” he was already out of earshot.